A Means to an End: Aligning Social Media and Business Strategy.

Social media is many things with many definitions. Ultimately, however, it is a collection of tools that enable us to get some things done that were difficult, impossible or just less satisfying than before.

This is a discussion is about what types of business objectives are better achieved with social media. I will look at social media as a tool for market engagement, customer service (in the broadest sense), lead generation, as well as a productivity tool, and a tool for creating high-performance corporate cultures. As with any good tool, the real value is in how its wielded – and the applications of it are limited only by the insight, imagination and ambition of the craftsmen who use it.

Lets begin with an overview of business objectives:

Market Engagement

Businesses want to engage their markets for several reasons:

– To understand market needs, wants, goals and desires so as to craft products, services, messaging and pricing to suit.

– To create awareness of their brand or offerings.

– To get new customers

– To improve their reputation Mainstream Social media has proven to be remarkably useful in each of these regards.

Enabling brand and product managers to listen to their markets, engage and discuss their needs and their offerings in a way that was nearly impossible before. Key tools: Mainstream social media sites and aggregators: Facebook, twitter, youtube, myspace, niche social networks that cater to your target market. Connections back to your own web properties is essential.

Customer engagement

Customer service in the form of providing information, support, service, updates and more for the purposes of increasing satisfaction, optimizing revenue opportunities, creating loyalty and customer advocates.

Social media has made customer engagement far less expensive while making it far more effective and satisfying for both customer and company. Key tools: Some mainstream social networking and media aggregation sites, but your own web properties play more of a starring role here. Custom Social networking sites for customer service, account management, customer communications are the primary tools, external social media tools are a place to reach out in order to bring your customers into your communities.

Employee engagement

Corporate intranets are intended to share corporate information, policies and processes with employees. In general, they are poorly designed, and disrespected as having only the most banal information. Adding a social dimension here can help increase relevance, share leadership thinking more deeply and in a fashion that garners greater buy in by employees. Employees can also be encouraged to share ideas, find answers to policy and process questions, make suggestions and generally get more benefit from the core corporate support services such as HR, facilities, finance and procurement.

Key tools: discussion forums, ratings, Q&A, idea management, blogs, microblogging.

Employee productivity

While social media is frequently thought of as a social, extra-curricular activity that may have some benefit in the brand reputation and PR realm, the same tools that allow this form of communication can also be leveraged to create super-effective, next generation productivity tools.

These tools are not toys, but leverage the new communications paradigms offered by these tools to quickly get good work done. Most organizations, particularly those that deal primarily in information and ideas – that is any company that has a significant creative, analytic or R&D arm – needs to optimize and leverage that work and those work processes to the greatest extent.

Social media tools, because of their ability to improve communications, as well as create and maintain weak ties, make it easier to support the three most important forms of collaboration and productivity:

Creative – a team can use shared workspaces and other social media constructs, such as feeds and wikis to organize work, collect individual contributions, review, edit, and iterate vastly more efficiently than only through the use of in person meetings, email and conference calls.

Connective – knowledge workers can tap the collective intelligence of the organization by finding and friend-ing knowledgeable people within the organization, spotting trends and activity that may be relevant, and contributing their own value where its relevant and valued. This type of activity can save thousands of hours in the “who knows x about y” department and research has shown that tapping a diverse set of skills and perspectives leads to higher quality outcomes in less time.

Compounding – Here’s the fundamental idea: all work should leverage, to the greatest extent possible, leverage work that has already been done. Most companies currently have the basic capability to let employees search on documents and find things of relevance (this is rarely perfect, but even so). Social media tools, however, capture not just work product, such as documents, but work processes and resources as well, making it possible to find not only a document, but how it was created, how it evolved, who contributed, and what resources were used. The ability to find and follow this type of information is vastly more valuable than having just the end product to an employee who must accomplish a similar task or bring it to the next level.

Key tools: shared workspaces, communities, friending, profiles, wikis, feeds, instant messaging, planning tools, and other technologies that promote information aggregation, communication and networking.

 

Challenges

The Challenge of acting human: As I’ve said before – acting human is an unnatural act for most corporations. They’ve been trying for so long to be perfect and distance themselves from the warmth and fallibility of humanity so as to project flawless, rock-like solidity. The problem is that in this post-commerical era, where consumers are jaded, the corporate façade is not trusted – its considered more of a sham than deserving confidence above and beyond people. People now trust people more than brands. So how do you act human without being inconsistent? Warm without looking incompetent? Sympathetic, interesting and engaging without looking unprofessional?

Well, it takes a leap of faith. Savvy employees will understand that they are aiming to reflect well on the company as well as engender excitement and loyalty from the market. Mistakes will be made. Respect will be given to those companies who admit their mistakes immediately, and offer thoughtful, meaningful responses to them. Plan for success and plan for the mistakes

The Payoff: Trust, credibility, loyalty.

The challenge of the collaborative culture: collaborative cultures are different. They are mission focused, ego-swallowing machines where every problem and challenge is quickly surfaced, discussed and dealt with. Individuals, and the team as a whole learn quickly, act decisively, and efficiently  by quickly engaging people, harvesting their work, and letting the entire team polish and hone it to perfection.

We aren’t used to working this way, however. It takes a tremendous leap of faith that I can show my vulnerabilities and still be respected. information sharing is valued over information hording, and leadership is distilled into its purest form of setting direction, orchestrating activity, inviting and responding to new information from any part of the organization.

Management by fear and blame is left behind along with its tendency to breed mediocrity from people who either don’t want to take risks, or who have lost faith that their best contributions can be valuable in the organization.

The payoff: agile, smart, streamlined efficiency that can shine like a laser beam on any challenge. Fierce productivity.

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5 comments

  1. Good blogpost. However you may want to differentiate Social Media (content) from Social Networks (connections).

    This is an important distinction when it comes to Customer Service. You are interacting with the customers using Social Media, you are not Networking with them.

    1. I’m not sure I agree – and its probably a matter of semantics, but customer service can indeed be building stronger relationships and a community of practice around the products.

      This depends on the product of course – complex business products, vs something like books or shoes.

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